19 Jul

Lake Titicaca

When Jason first saw Lake Titicaca on the map of Peru all those months ago, he  giggled like a schoolboy and said that we had to go there.

It definitely has a name that makes us all laugh and the joke is not lost on the locals. The lake is shared by Peru and Bolivia…Peru says the first half of the lake is Peruvian and the last half is Bolivian…Bolivia, of course, says exactly the opposite.

Lake Titicaca, Peru

Besides its giggle-inducing name (which actually means ‘stone puma’), Lake Titicaca has a few claims to fame:

  • It is the highest altitude navigable lake in the world.
  • It is home to the ‘Floating Reed Islands of Uros’.
  • It is home to Taquile Island, famous for knitting and weaving.

We took a day long tour to see the best that the lake had to offer.

I was somewhat hesitant to visit the reed islands as I knew that they would be very touristy. But with the adage that ‘it has to be touristy for a reason’, we thought we’d have a look.

Lake Titicaca, Peru

Turns out the islands are touristy, but the inhabitants are so enthusiastic and proud of their homes, that it was all worth it. We were first greeted by the island presidents wife, Francesca (the president was out fishing for the day and so could not greet us himself). She showed us to a small seating area and proceeded, with our guide as interpreter, to demonstrate how the islands were built. It was a well practiced routine, yet she was enthusiastic and played back and forth with our guide.

Lake Titicaca, Peru

She explained that the islands were built to avoid incoming conquerors. They now number more than 40 islands each housing 7-10 families. The roots of the torta reed are used to make the base of the islands and the rest of the reed is used to top the islands, creating a spongy, floating mass that can withstand an amazing amount of weight.

After the demonstration, each of the women on the island took a group back to their homes to show us around. Francesca proudly showed us around her cozy one room home. She then pulled out some traditional clothing and offered to help us dress. It was fun to try the clothes on and I can see how they stay warm as the costume was made of wool and quite heavy.

Lake Titicaca, Peru

Our tour of the floating islands finished with a ride in a traditional reed boat. As we were rowed around the small harbor we got a closer look at some of the neighboring islands. It seems that ‘keeping up with the Jones’ is just as prevalent here as it is at home…each island had bigger and better homes, or more elaborate structures to show off to the tourists…a funny realization here in the ‘middle of nowhere’.

Then we were off, further into the lake, to Taquile Island. The people of Taquile Island are world renowned for their knitting and weaving. UNESCO has recognized their work as some of the best in the world and inhabitants have traveled around the world teaching and displaying their wares.

It is the men of the island who knit, and they do it as naturally as having an ice cream. They can be seen, in traditional dress, walking and knitting, talking and knitting, drinking and knitting…always with their wool and needles in their hands…it’s a little strange quite frankly. Apparently boys learn to knit as young as 5 or 6 and then perfect their craft as they grow. The results are beautiful and are as perfect and ornate as machine knit fabric.

Lake Titicaca, Peru

The women of the island weave and their work is as beautiful as the mens’ knitting. The colors and scenes are amazing and the artistic quality is evident. I had been admiring Peruvian textiles since arriving and decided that there could not be a better place to invest in a piece. We found a traditional woven mens belt depicting scenes from the island – it will look great framed on our wall when we return.

So, now we can giggle and say that we have visited Lake Titicaca. It was a great day…I’m glad we didn’t let the touristy nature of it keep us away.

14 Jul

How To Just Let Things Happen In Puno

I’d heard that Puno was the asshole of the earth. People said ‘don’t stay there, just head to the islands’. I figured it couldn’t be that bad.

We took a tourist tour bus from Cusco to Puno. On board was a guide who explained all the sights along the way. We stopped at four historical/cultural sights plus had lunch at a local buffet restaurant. It was a good deal and I would recommend the newer, and cheaper, Tourismo Mer over it’s more expensive counterpart.

The views from Cusco to Puno were amazing. We were, again, in the altiplano with the valleys alternately widening and narrowing as we weaved our way through the mountain tops. We could see the terrain change as we reached higher and higher altitudes where farming is no longer possible and only the high plains grass can grow – suitable only for ranching. Cattle and llamas are king here.

Puno, Peru

Puno, Peru

We thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Taking the bus during the day makes all the difference in the world!!

We arrived at the Puno bus terminal with no plans,  no reservations and no clue. We hadn’t been able to find anything suitable (read…cheap) on line, and talking to people in Cusco had also provided no clues as to where to stay.

Our plan was to taxi to the main square and start circling until we found a place to stay. Then, Micaela found us. She started showing us pamphlets of hostels and hotels and listing all their amenities. Once she learned our price point, she pulled out a listing and convinced us to take a look. We went with her to the hotel and found that it more than met our needs and decided to stay…at much less than the posted rate.

Once we were settled on a place to stay, Micaela pulled out her Lake Titicaca tour pamphlets. We told her what we were looking for and she easily found us a tour in our price range for the next day. Easy, shmeasy.

When were we leaving Puno, she asked us, and would we need bus tickets to Arequipa? Why yes, we would need bus tickets, we said telling her when we wanted to leave and, again, our price range. She immediately hooked us up with bus tickets for the day following our Lake Titicaca tour. (What’s more, on the day, she came and picked us up and helped us negotiate the bus terminal).  She was a veritable one stop shop for Puno, Lake Titicaca and Arequipa!

It was getting into the evening now and we decided to go find somewhere to eat. On our way out of the hotel we inquired at the front desk if there was anywhere nearby. He pulled out a card for a restaurant on a side street and said it was good. Having had such a good day of taking whatever came our way we decided to try it out. Again, another good recommendation and we had wonderful meal of soup and alpaca.

Although we didn’t see much of Puno beyond the lake, I’m learning that sometimes it pays to just go with it…let people help. If we know what our parameters are for an item or experience and the person is offering something within those parameters then why would I not give it a shot? I can always say no once I see what is offered and, it just might make it easier on me…I don’t always have to do it the hard way.